An inspection at a prison on the Lincolnshire border has found that severe staff shortages have strained the service’s ability to meet the needs of prisoners.
HMP Stocken in Rutland, just off the A1 at Stretton near Colsterworth, is a category C prison, housing just over 1000 prisoners.
In an inspection in January, the independent watchdog HM Inspectorate of Prisons identified the poor conditions of the prison as a concern.
There was also an average of one incident of self-harm everyday, although this is lower than most Category C prisons.
However, levels of violence and contraband have dropped since the previous inspection in 2019.
15 key concerns were identified during the inspection, including five priority points for management to address.
These were the poor condition of infrastructure, the difficulty for prisoners to maintain family contact, a lack of full-time activity spaces to meet the needs of prisoners, a curriculum that is not broad enough for the needs of inmates, and a shortage of staff-prisoner communications.
During a survey held by inspectors, 40% of HMP Stocken’s prisoners said they felt unsafe at some point during their time at the prison, with 19% feeling unsafe at the time of the inspection.
Another survey found that 37% of prisoners felt staff didn’t treat them with respect, similar levels to that of 2019.
Many from minority ethnic backgrounds or different faiths felt differently about their treatment compared to their white counterparts.
Just under half – 46% – of BAME prisoners said staff treated them with respect, compared to 70% of white prisoners.
Only 32% of black and minority ethnic inmates said they’d never been bullied or victimised by staff, compared to 56% of white prisoners.
Only 38% of Muslim prisoners felt staff treated them with respect, compared with 68% of non-Muslims.
Despite this, there was praise for the range of religious services available to people of different faiths at the prison.
89% of inmates said they could attend religious services if they wanted to, 17% higher than the figure at similar prisons elsewhere.
Criticism was issued to staff in the report for not being visible enough on landings and instead spending their time in wing offices, leaving prisoners unsupervised for long periods of time.
However, safety and rehabilitation planning ranked higher than it did in the last inspection in 2019, as safety was bumped up to ‘Good’ from ‘Reasonably Good’.
Violence levels had fallen dramatically since 2019, with assaults on staff almost halving and prisoner-on-prisoner assaults declining by 63%.
Levels of contraband had also reduced considerably since the last inspection, dropping from 765 in 2019 to 264 in 2022.
One prisoner told inspectors: “If you want to get your hands on drugs and phones, this isn’t where you want to be.”
There was an ongoing issue around the levels of self-harm among prisoners, though.
391 incidents were recorded in the previous 12 months, which is a rise from the year before, but is still lower than most other category C prisons in England.
The prison had been running a programme designed to improve prisoners’ mental health, providing excellent results for vulnerable people, who said it had a positive impact on their life’s transformation.
As for living conditions, inspectors found numerous issues with cleanliness and standards of facilities – particularly in cells and communal areas.
Walkways along the prison were found to be tidy, but general cleanliness of communal spaces and food serving areas was deemed poor – with insufficient materials available to prisoners who want to keep these areas clean and hygienic.
When it came to mealtimes, just 37% of prisoners felt they had enough to eat, and 60% were critical of the quality of the food.
Ofsted inspectors then examined the education, skills and work provision within the prison, finding that all five categories were either inadequate or requiring improvement.
Leaders and managers had not provided sufficient activity spaces for the population, with full-time activities only available for around a third of the prisoners.
Mathematics was only taught at entry level, and the education provider found a severe shortage of staff to be a primary issue in failing to meet prisoners’ needs.
Of the inmates, 26% of the prisoners were aged 29 or under, with 1,019 new prisoners received in 2022. Around 85 were referred for mental health assessments each month and 333 were supported in battles against substance use.
75 prisoners were foreign nationals, and 30% were from black and minority ethnic backgrounds.
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